Keeping The Boating Community Safe: Northbrook Residents Recognized

NORTHBROOK, IL — Calling it a “capstone” of their training, two Northbrook residents were recently awarded medals for their work in search and rescue cases on Lake Michigan. Paul Bornstein and John Saran are civilian volunteers with the Coast Guard Auxiliary.

“I don’t usually take time to think about this stuff, other than the immediate satisfaction I get and share with my crew when helping other boaters out,” Bornstein tells Patch about the citations. “I know I make a contribution to the boating community, and getting this award and seeing the citation gave me a few minutes to reflect on the contributions I have made this year and before.”

For Bornstein, who graduated from Glenbrook South and grew up on the North Shore, the Auxiliary Medal of Operational Merit was for three separate missions last summer. Bornstein served as a coxswain in each situation and assisted 17 people and safeguarded more than $185,000 in property. He has been a civilian volunteer for the past 10 years.

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“Our operation involves high speed, rapidly changing weather, unpredictable boater/survivor responses, close proximity to hazards and emergency situations that place the crews’ success of any of these missions at risk,” said Bornstein, who lives on the North Shore with his wife and daughter. “The outcome in these cases can be catastrophic if we did not act properly and quickly.”

Saran is newer to the area, having moved to incorporated Northbrook in 2021, where he lives with his wife and two children. His wife grew up in Glenview and the two attended Northwestern.

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Saran’s citation commends his work as an auxiliary boat crew member last summer, when he helped 15 people while safeguarding more than $100,000 in property.

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“Like Paul, I view this as the capstone of my training and dedication to the operations program of the Auxiliary,” Saran said. “I have only been a qualified crew member for about four years and before that knew nothing about boats.”

Saran said the crews follows a risk management process before launch and will reassess live during the mission.

“In this case, we made the decision that the gain (assisting/saving a life) was higher than the risk when we decided to engage,” Saran said. “We also have trained for scenarios like this, and so it was seamlessly executed.”

As volunteers, the pair augment the active duty and reserve units of the U.S. Coast Guard. When they set out on patrols for the Coast Guard Station Chicago, they are under orders as Coast Guard vessels.

“We can engage in all Coast Guard missions except those that involve law enforcement or military actions,” Saran said. “On the water, that translates to search and rescue, safety zone support, maritime observation, aids to navigation support and training with CG units.”

In one of the missions, according to Bornstein, a boat was heading toward Navy Pier and would’ve hit a break wall, resulting in knocking the passengers out of the boat and into the water, or slamming into the break wall.

“That day the waves were strong. We had to be concerned with not only our boat, but their boat as well,” Bornstein said. “By our quick actions, we were able to pass a tow line on to their boat and pull them away. Both boats were very close to the break wall by the time all the lines were secured, so again we were working close to hazards.”

The duo were recognized last month at the Change of Watch ceremony for Chicago Division 35 of the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary at the American Legion of Evergreen Park 854.

“Seeing it on a piece of paper caused me to realize the value that my crew and I bring and energizes me for the next season,” Bornstein said. “This award also is given when extreme skills are utilized and validates all the training we do and the years we have put into this.”

For those interested in joining the Coast Guard, the first stop is Home | United States Coast Guard ( There is also a recruiting office in Chicago.

“I also see it as a validation [our] approach to promoting a more active SAR program — we both have limited time with our families and jobs, so wanted to make sure that we scheduled our patrols and missions during times that could have the highest impact,” Saran said.

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